Energy and Environment in the European Union

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Courtesy of European Environment Agency (EEA)

Introduction

Energy gives personal comfort and mobility to people, and is essential for the generation of industrial, commercial and societal wealth. On the other hand, energy production and consumption (including heat and electricity production, oil refining and final uses in households, services, industry and transport) place considerable pressures on the environment. These pressures include the emission of greenhouse gases and air pollutants, land use, waste generation and oil spills. They contribute to climate change, damage natural ecosystems and the man-made environment, and cause adverse effects to human health.

Energy supply security, environmental sustainability and competitiveness are central objectives of EU energy policy. These were highlighted in the proposals of the European Council (March 2006) for an Energy Policy for Europe.

Ensuring that all of these objectives are met has become increasingly difficult. Changes in the global geopolitical situation and growing energy demand worldwide have caused substantial rises in oil and gas prices in recent years. This is of particular concern for the EU, which is increasingly dependent on energy imports. At the same time, there is growing awareness of the need for clean energy, particularly due to concerns over climate change. This is underlined by the entry-into-force of the Kyoto Protocol in 2005 and the proposals by the EU Council for further emission reductions for developed countries beyond the Kyoto Protocol period (2008–2012). Further emission reductions are also required with regard to air pollutants, as recognised in the proposed Thematic Strategy on Air Pollution (2005).

In order to face these challenges simultaneously, EU policy aims to integrate environmental concerns within the energy sector by

  • reducing the environmental impact of energy production and use;
  • promoting energy savings and energy efficiency;
  • increasing the use of cleaner energy and its share of total production.

This report is the second EEA report on energy and environment to examine progress in integrating environmental considerations into the EU energy sector. It is based on a set of indicators covering the period 1990 to 2003.

Trends in energy-related environmental pressures

The overall picture shows that environmental pressures from energy production were generally reduced between 1990 and 2003. However, since 1999/2000 this positive trend has slowed and in some cases has even been reversed. More action is thus needed to meet current short- (2010) and long-term policy targets. This applies particularly to the energy-related emissions of greenhouse gases (Key trend 1). Further reductions of air pollutant emissions are also necessary to achieve long-term air quality targets (Key trend 2). Nuclear waste continues to be accumulated and a generally acceptable way to dispose of this waste has yet to be identified and implemented. Oil pollution from offshore installations and coastal refineries has been reduced, but major oil tanker spills continue to occur, albeit less frequently.

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